Watch and Pray: The Angel Appears

Midweek Advent 2

Last week we began looking at Luke’s account of Jesus. Luke begins by insisting that his account is true and trustworthy. Read it, listen to it, and you find certainty.

The introduction, however, isn’t over. We have 82 verses to go until Jesus turns up. But with the story of John the Baptist, his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke writes to get us excited.

“God is back on the scene,” says Luke. “He’s at work. Things are happening. Guess who’s coming!”

There are two stories going on here. There is the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a childless couple in their later years, and God gives them a child.

The personal story involves promises. The angel delivers God’s promise of a son, and the drama is that Zechariah doesn’t believe Gabriel’s words. He doesn’t take the LORD at his word. That’s unbelief. Faith is: “you say it, I’ll believe it and live as if it’s true.”

God makes a promise and keeps his promise.

There is a bigger story of which they are one chapter. The story that began when God made the world, the story of God saving a people for himself. There are lots of little clues here to show that this story of a small family is big part of that greater story.

One of the enjoyable parts of a good book or movie or series is seeing how earlier storylines later on make more sense. Small details from early episodes suddenly became significant parts of the overarching plot.

And it’s the same with the best book, the Bible. Let me list you some of the clues that connect Zechariah and Elizabeth to the rest of the Bible. One obvious one is linking Zechariah and Elizabeth to King Abijah (King David’s great-grandson) and Aaron. They are part of a wider family and nation, the people of God.

Elizabeth says that her pregnancy has taken away her disgrace, echoing Jacob’s wife Rachel (in Genesis) when the birth of Joseph takes away her disgrace.

The angel appearing to announce a birth reminds us when an angel appeared to predict the birth of Samson. Samson, like John the Baptist, was not allowed to drink wine and was filled with the Spirit. “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the father s to their children” is a quote from the prophet Malachi.

The point is: this is the next chapter in the big story. Since the last prophet in the Old Testament there has been some 400 years of silence. God has been missing (it seems) for 400 years. Imagine that. You’re God’s people but the last time God spoke was in the year 1615. That’s a long time ago! What about God’s great promises to drive out evil? What about his plan to bring blessing to the world?

Everything seemed to have stopped. But now God is back in action. Things are happening, the Lord’s Word is coming to His people. The appearance of the angel to Zechariah tells us that God’s promise-plan is now full-steam ahead!

The whole world waited thousands of years for the God’s first Christmas present to us. For, the world’s long wait for the first Christmas actually began “in the beginning.” From Eden they awaited this day. They awaited centuries for the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah to come. And now the promise is being fulfilled.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.  . . . He will go on before the Lord . . .  to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”

Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son John would be the final prophet, to prepare the way for the Messiah’s birth and the culmination of God’s plan of salvation for the world.

There is even more at work here, and it’s even within their names. “Zechariah” means – the Lord has remembered. There is Elizabeth – God has sworn or promised. There is John – God has graciously given. Put these all together: Yahweh has remembered His promise by graciously giving.

What promise has God remembered? The names of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John point us back to the first promise, the very first promise, a promise that goes back to Eden, to Adam and Eve. A promise about the coming of Jesus, the defeat of sin, and the crushing of Satan. Zechariah, Elizabeth, John: Three names that tell us the battle between Satan and God is reaching its climax.

We see how Zechariah reacted. Yet, how do we often react to God’s Word and promises? “How can I be sure?” Every sin forgiven…really? Working out for good…really? A place in heaven and rising from the grave…really? With the other disciples, we have to say, “Lord, I believe; help me in my unbelief.” And he does. And He continues to remember His promise and forgive–even our doubt. And he still keeps his promises–all of them. They’re all “yes” in Christ Jesus, as Scripture says. The baby in the manger, the Christ on a cross, and the empty tomb are all proof.

Zechariah – God has remembered. God has remembered, Elizabeth, and gave her a child and an promise. God has remembered the promise to hear prayers. But, especially, God has remembered the promise of the beginning that the Messiah will come, that God will take on flesh, that sin will be defeated, that Satan will be crushed. “The LORD has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown me his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Zechariah and Elizabeth show us promises being fulfilled. Elizabeth’s disgrace was taken away. In Christ, so is yours, your sin removed, the Lord’s promised remembered and mercy accomplished. As Luke mentions in the opening verses, this is trust worthy and true that you may have certainty concerning the things you are taught. Amen.

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